Amanda Todd, a 15 year old, was found dead Wednesday. She took her own life – another victim of cyberbullying. Tragically, her story is almost stereotypical at this point. CNN covered the story, her story, which she tells through a haunting YouTube video. As she recounts the incidents that led her to change schools, suffer from deep depression and anxiety, being physically as well as emotionally beaten by herself and her peers, and eventually take her own life, she says that he can never get that photo back.
Social isolation, bullying, and depression are difficult to endure, but the added feeling that one must endure them forever – the hopelessness – is simply too much for many. The It Gets Better Project was started to address this issue for the LGBT community. It is “a response to a number of students taking their own lives after being bullied in school.” If Amanda held felt she could move on from that photo – if she could “get it back,” perhaps she would have felt that it would get better. How can we even suggest to her that it will get better when the life of her information online seems eternal?
A right to be forgotten may provide hope for the victims of cyberbullying. The notion that you do not have to be that victim forever – the Internet will loosen its shackles eventually – offers hope for self-determination. In this case, however, the right to be forgotten is just one of many legal tools that may have helped Amanda regain control of that regretful image. Bullying content can often be removed for a number of reasons including violations of terms of service, child pornography laws, copyright ownership, and cyber-bullying and cyber-stalking laws (Canadian laws). Amanda’s picture falls into at least the first three categories. Criminalizing bullying is difficult and the language of the statute must usually include that the communication be threatening or defamatory. Although she had legal options, none of these laws are designed to address Amanda’s fears, which was that she would not be able to move beyond a horrific moment in her adolescence because it was indefinitely online. Perhaps the right to be forgotten should not be re-cast as a right to delete (European scholars have argued that the right to be forgotten is really just about deleting data trails and user profiles, but not online content accessible through the Internet), but a right to let it get better. The Do Not Track Kids bill, more than any other legislative effort, seeks to create such a right. Although imperfect, the bill is a good place to start and could (but does not currently) include specific language for removing bullying content.
There is value to that image; it provides historical evidence of sexting and cyber mob mentality, among other topics, but what value do we derive from Amanda being attached to that content? Any value is surely outweighed by the harm she suffered and the fear and anxiety felt throughout society because of these types of stories. This child needed legal, social, and technical help but did not find it. Time to do better has long passed.